For good or for bad, change is certain. Jack Heifner’s Vanities, onstage through July 7 at the Elite Theatre Company in Oxnard, knows this in its bones. The play’s characters learn it the hard way. This makes Vanities a bittersweet look at how people and friendships evolve over time . . . whether they like it or not.
Director Kimberly Demmary and the cast create a worthy production that embraces the joys and expectations, the resentments and harsh realities that Vanities skillfully spools together across a decade in the friendship of three young women.
It all begins in 1963, when high school friends Joanne, Kathy and Mary, “aggressively vivacious cheerleaders,” are practicing for a big game. Full of verve and sass, they’re as different as can be, but they share a bond of popularity and privilege. They can have it all, and that’s just for starters.
The first-rate Catie Sayeg plays Joanne, all Texas twang and thunder. She’s certain about everything — from her boyfriend’s fidelity to what her life will look like: college, marriage, babies, done. Kathy, whose optimism and evolution are deftly played by Hayley Silvers, is the consummate go-getter. She’s got a plan and there’s nothing that a little pep (and some skillfully sculpted chicken wire and colorful tissue paper) can’t accomplish. Then there’s Mary, a bit of the odd girl out, who wants freedom with a capital “F.” Her long-held resentments and desires for adventure are captured by Arden Smith.
The next time we see them, their little orbit has expanded and it begins to show a few cracks. The women are in college now and, while they’re still close, they’re not as in-sync as before. Their big plans remain but the outside world has begun to filter in, and so have its problems and uncertainties.
Fast forward to 1974, when the women reconnect for an afternoon in New York City. The high ponytails are gone, but the longing for something remains. It’s just that it’s not so easy to hold on to all that teenage fearlessness. They’re glad to see each other, maybe. Deep-seated resentments and secrets have lent a patina to the glossiness of the past. It’s not easy to see changes in an old friend. It’s harder still to see the changes in yourself reflected back at you.
As artistic director and producer, L.J. Noel explains that it was her dream to bring Vanities to the stage. Demmary and the cast do her proud. So does the creative team behind the scenes. The highlight of the set, designed by Demmary and built by master carpenter Bob Decker, incorporates three decked-out vanities. Demmary also serves as the props master and set dresser. Sound engineer Allan Noel incorporates a fun soundtrack that evokes the mood of the different eras. Lighting design by Kylie Anne is simple but effective. Costume designer Laura Comstock gives each woman a distinct and memorable look that evolves over time.
The beauty of Vanities is that it makes no profound judgments. Neither does it wrap everything up in a neat little package. Time is messy and so are people and friendships. Vanities is a poignant study of how we grow and change. How we try to hold on when we aren’t desperately trying to let go. For better or worse. It’s what we do.
Vanities through July 7 at the Elite Theatre Company, 2731 S. Victoria Avenue, Oxnard. For more information call 805-483-5118 or visit www.elitetheatre.org.